When I started doing community theatre, I found that I was surrounded by people who were there for the love of theatre. Some were fantastic actors in their own right, where others just did it for something to do and were just as happy to have a small role. But everybody stuck together. We didn’t criticize (excessively anyway), and we just had fun putting on the show. As with most community theatre groups, we had a central bank account and an executive council who kept the books up to date. And when putting on the show, our goal was to break even – with the hope for some extra money so we could put a little better show on next time. It was the good ‘ole days.
Since then, I have seen a horrendous amount of groups who pretend to community theatre, but which are just money making ventures for certain people. Groups that charge large amounts of money for people to gain starring roles in the production, and others that call themselves “Theatre Schools” where all they do is put on a community theatre-like show and pocket all the money. I’ve seen people rage against others who do this, only to turn around and do the exact same thing themselves. It worries me.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe in capitalism, but there comes a time and place where it just doesn’t fit. When you have a situation where one pure non-profit community theatre production is trying to exist against two or more of these money making ventures, the victim is usually the non-profit group. The for-money venture usually digs up a large amount of capital for the show-rights, advertising and sets/costumes, and then can easily donate a large amount of money to the town in what looks like generosity but is actually just a tax-saving measure. The non-profit group just tries to put on quality theatre with the little budget they have. And who do you think the town will like at the end of the day? The one that was able to spread more butter on their bread, of course. Those that could only afford margarine get ignored (OK OK if you think that was a terrible analogy, I apologize)
The worst thing of all is you see situations where some people make a wack of cash on these productions where the actors, who have provided a ton of their free time and energy to these things, get shafted. I’ve seen Directors and Producers make thousands off of productions, and the lead actor or actress, who had 5 musical solos, 50 pages of dialogue, had fights with their spouse every night for a week, is sleeping on the couch (or worst) and has almost lost their job – gets Zilch. Zero. Zip. Doesn’t seem fair.
Then these Directors and Producers say to me. “Yeah, but I work harder then the actors do”. Bullshit. Most Producers do very little work, and most Directors sit on their asses saying nothing letting the actors “be natural”. I can honestly say that because I’ve done both of those roles in that exact way in the past.
I long for the old days when it was all just a lot of fun to put on a show. Now it’s a lesson in marketing and economics.
Support your local community theatre today. They are out there, you just need to ask.
Signs of a true community theatre group:
- Not-For-Profit or Non-Profit (charitable) status
- Unpaid cast and crew
- Unpaid executive council (very important)
I’m not asking you to boycot the groups that pay their crew and exec members. Just make sure you remember the other groups who work their asses off for free just for the love of the craft.
You’ll know them from the extra bit of pride you see on their faces following the performance.